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Ananias and Sapphira

Ananias and Sapphira
By Dr. Arnold Frutchenbaum

The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 4:32-5:11 provides an example of the use of Peter's apostolic authority to bind and loose with respect to church discipline.[1] The apostles had the authority to exercise discipline upon the Church, but that authority has not passed beyond regular church discipline. In John 20:23, the apostles were given the authority to free one from punishment (=loose) or retain (=bind) sin, and here Peter "retained" the sin of Ananias and Sapphira for punishment. Today, we have to follow the four-stage procedure of Matthew 18:15-20, but the apostles did not. Even the early Church was not perfect. This account underscores for us, among other things, that God will judge sin, and that judgment must begin at the house of God ( I Peter 4:17).


In Acts 4:32a-33 we learn about the community of believers in Jerusalem. The saints were: (1) unified in faith, (2) characterized by their sharing attitudes, (3) witnesses to the Apostle's ability to perform miracles, signs, and wonders, and (4) enjoyed God's grace (i.e. his unmerited favor). God provided for their needs (4:34-35), for the saints distributed their well to the apostles and thus distribution was made to each, according as any one had need. However, this action was largely based upon a misconception concerning the Second Coming. There were strong feelings that Jesus would definitely return in their lifetime, although He had clearly indicated that this would not happen. In fact, Yeshua prophesied that Peter would die before His Second Coming in John 21. Although this practice was limited to the congregation of Jerusalem (not beyond), it proved to be a mistake, because it caused the Church of Jerusalem to become poverty-stricken; after everything had been sold and distributed, there was nothing left in the common pot. Their poverty caused them to fall in need of help from Gentile churches that did not follow the procedure of having all things common (Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:25-27; Gal. 2:10).


After giving us a general account of what the believers were doing in verses 32-35, Luke now focused his attention upon one special example: Barnabas (vv. 36-37). Barnabas (Aramaic for Son of exhortation) was a Levite from the island of Cyprus, now living in Jerusalem. He was the cousin of John Mark, who was the author of the Gospel of Mark (Col. 4:10). He was the man who persuaded the Church of Jerusalem to receive Paul in Acts 9:27, when Paul returned to Jerusalem from Damascus, claiming to be a believer. Later, Barnabas was sent by the Church of Jerusalem to investigate Gentile salvation in Antioch in Acts 11:19-24. According to Acts 14:12, he was of commanding appearance, because he was taken by the people of Lystra to be the god Jupiter or Zeus. He also had the gift of apostleship according to Acts 14:14, and was of that second category of apostles, like Paul and James, the half-brother of Yeshua. The only prerequisite for this category of apostleship was that they had seen the resurrected Messiah. Apparently, Barnabas was among the five hundred who saw the resurrected Messiah.

Barnabas owned a field (v. 37) and sold it. He then brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. This is a good example of one who possessed the love of the brethren. Although under the Mosaic Law, ownership of land was forbidden to a Levite (Num. 18:20-23; Deut. 10:9), that stipulation only held true within the Land of Israel Barnabas disobedient? Levites like Barnabas living outside the Land were not under that stipulation.


In contrast with the good example of Barnabas who sold land, we have the bad example of Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold land (Acts 5:1-11). Unlike Barnabas, however, Ananias and Sapphira (v. 2). The conspiracy was to keep back part of the price. In the Greek text, Luke used the same word that is used in the Septuagint version of Joshua 7:1, where Achan held on to something he was not supposed to have. What Achan was to Joshua, Ananias and Sapphira were going to be to the early Church. Just as Achan interrupted Israel's process and progress in the conquest of the Promised Land, Ananias and Sapphira's act of deceit interrupted the process and the progress of the Program of God.

While Ananias was the leader in it, his wife was party to the conspiracy. Ananias alone brought a certain part of their money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter accused Ananias (5:3-4) and in his accusation, Peter held two persons responsible for this act of deceit, Satan (v. 3) and Ananias. Again, unlike Barnabas who was filled with the Spirit, Ananias was willed with Satan. Peter points out that the selling of the land was not obligatory; Ananias did not have to sell it. Even after selling it, he still did not have to give any part of it away. He had the right to keep all of it. He had a choice, either to give all of it to the apostles, or none of it, or only part of it. Giving only part of it was not the sin. The sin was that he gave only a part while claiming to have given it all. Ananias' sin led to his death.

While listening to what Peter was saying, he fell down and gave up the ghost. The result was that great fear came upon all that heard it. This is the only example of someone being "slain by the Spirit." But Ananias did not get up again, he was dead. In verse 7, Sapphira came in. As to the time: it was about the space of three hours after her husband had died that she came in and Peter asks her "Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much." With that question, Peter gave her an opportunity "to come clean." But Sapphira answered in verse 8b: Yea, for so much. She did not take the opportunity offered to her, but chose to continue the conspiracy. Peter then gave his accusation and judgment. This was sin against the Holy Spirit; it was lying to the Holy Spirit, and when they did that, they "tried" the Holy Spirit. The judgment was: behold, the feet of them that have buried your husband are at the door. These young men had just returned at that moment, and now they shall carry [Sapphira] out for burial as well. She fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up the ghost (v. 10). As a result great fear came upon the whole church. This is the first mention of church in the Book of Acts, out of a total of twenty-three times. The second result was that fear fell on those outside the congregation inJerusalem as well.

[1] This post is a modified version of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum's original Messianic Bible Study. The full version may be obtained here.

Original Article

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